AKP wants to take revenge on Kurds for defeating ISIL, jailed Kurdish leader says

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The pro-Kurdish Peoples's Democratic Party's (HDP) former leader Selahattin Demirtaş sits in prison in Edirne on May 4, 2018. Demirtas, who has been behind bars since November 2016, is in prison accused of links to outlawed Kurdish rebels and is facing a 142-year sentence on charges of leading a terror organization. / HANDOUT / AFP PHOTO / HDP

The Turkish government has ramped up a crackdown on pro-Kurdish politicians to avenge the defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria, Selahattin Demirtaş, jailed former leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said in an interview with the Mezopotamya News Agency (MA) on Tuesday.

Demirtaş answered questions regarding recent raids against HDP officials.

In September and early October, raids targeting HDP politicians were carried out over accusations of incitement to violence for their alleged role in 2014 protests ignited by what is seen by many as the Turkish government’s tacit approval of the Kobane siege in 2014 when ISIL militants laid a prolonged siege to a Kurdish town in northern Syria.

After the raids, a court arrested Ayhan Bilgen, a former co-mayor from the HDP along with 16 other party officials.

“What ushered in the downfall of ISIL was their defeat at Kobane. The fact that ISIL was defeated in the Middle East saddens the AKP [Justice and Development Party] the most,” Demirtaş said.

Syrian Kurdish armed groups such as the People’s Protection Units (YPG) played a crucial role in the coalition task force set up to defeat ISIL and are viewed by Ankara as offshoots of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and thus terrorist organizations.

“The AKP and its collaborators, who invested heavily in extremist factions in the Middle East, suffered a strategic defeat. This is the source of the AKP’s unmitigated anger over the Kobane siege, and since that day, they have wanted to take revenge on the Kurds under the pretext of Kobane,” Demirtaş said.

European bodies and actors such as Russia have long accused Ankara of pursuing imperialist ambitions in the region and backing radical groups that commit war crimes in Syria’s protracted civil war.

Turkey has established direct control over swathes of land in northern Syria through successive offensives against the YPG since 2018. The operations received strong backing from the Turkish people and were used to stoke a nationalist fervor in the country that helped expand an ongoing crackdown on pro-Kurdish groups, according to observers.

“Everyone should know, in jail or out: We will resist to such a great extent that these plots will purge the AKP-MHP [Nationalist Movement Party] alliance instead of the HDP and will send them into the abyss,” Demirtaş said in reference to the police raids.

When asked about his views on the current state of the Turkish judiciary considering the fact that the investigation launched into the Kobane protests is a duplicate of a case in which no criminal charges were pressed, Demirtaş said: “The judiciary in Turkey has never been independent, impartial or just. But it has never been such a mess, either. The judiciary as an institution is in ruins. It is useless to expect justice from this or that court in a situation like this.”

Earlier in 2014 the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office decided to terminate a similar investigation into the protests in which 50 people died due to clashes with security forces and Islamist groups, citing a lack of jurisdiction. The Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of the southeastern city of Diyarbakır, where most of the protests took place, took over the file and has been investigating since then.

Recent detention orders issued on the same charges by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s office violate criminal law, according to legal experts.

Expressing hope for a new government that will include the HDP, to be formed after elections, the jailed leader noted that only then can democratic reforms be comprehensively implemented to fix the issue.

The parliamentary and presidential elections in the country are to be held in 2023; however, the economic downturn that saw the lira depreciate more than 29 percent against the US dollar in 2020 alone can cause cracks in the governing party, prompting hopes for early elections among opposition circles.

“It is not just us. Millions have become victims of the judiciary. Without a change in government and the law, no one will receive justice,” Demirtaş said and branded the recent raids as “not just a mere violation of the law but a serious crime committed in a bid to design the politics in the country.”

“We will bring those who are committing these crimes to justice,” he added.

Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, former co-chairs of the HDP, have been in jail on terror charges since November 2016. The AKP government has long accused the HDP of having ties to the PKK.

A report by the European Commission (EC) released in October underlined that serious backsliding continued this year in Turkey’s judicial system, with concerns over the systemic lack of independence of the judiciary.

Ankara launched a massive crackdown on dissent following a coup attempt in 2016 that claimed 250 lives. Under the pretext of an anti-coup fight, the Turkish government has removed 135,000 people from state jobs investigated some 600,000 people on allegations of terrorism. Some 30,000 are still in jail as part of the post-coup crackdown.

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